Why So Few Asian American Academic Leaders?

The Chronicle
of Higher Education
reports this morning that
a
new
study
by the American Council on
Education discovered the “stark lack of representation” of Asian-Americans
among leaders of higher education. “Despite leadership inroads made by
other racial minority groups,” ACE
announced, “only 1.5 percent of college and university
presidents are Asian Pacific Islander Americans.”

According to the brief, Asian
Pacific Islander Americans lead all other racial minority groups in the
percentage of full-time tenured faculty at 7 percent, but they occupy just 2
percent of chief academic officer positions and 3 percent of deanships. Thus, a
pool of potential leaders is available, but work remains to be done to move
faculty into deanships and beyond. 
 

The
study explains this stark “underrepresentation” of Asian-American
academic leaders by pointing to these “barriers to leadership
advancement”:
   

  • Racial bias: Like
    other minority candidates, Asian Pacific Islander Americans struggle against
    the prototype of a college president that some hiring committees hold. 
  • Stereotypes: Their
    leadership qualities may be viewed as not matching Western qualities that are
    typically valued, such as charisma, assertiveness and direct communication
    styles.
  • The forgotten minority: Even
    though Asian Pacific Islander Americans are underrepresented in senior
    leadership, they are rarely recruited in efforts to diversify candidate pools.
  • “The Model Minority”: The
    high representation and high success rate of Asian Pacific Islander Americans
    in American higher education leave many oblivious to their stark lack of
    representation in the field’s leadership.

There
are some potentially interesting issues here that it appears the study did not
address. For example, are the “stereotypes” incorrect? That is, are
the “leadership qualities” of Asian-Americans actually different from
the “Western qualities that are typically valued” or are they
incorrectly “viewed” as different? If Asian Americans are not
different, then how would having more of them as leaders add any actual
“diversity”? In addition, although “Racial bias” and
“Stereotypes” are listed as separate “barriers,” it’s not
clear how struggling against “the prototype” that Asian Americans
don’t fit is different from struggling against the “stereotype” of
them.

The
fact that blacks and Hispanics also have to struggle against the same
“prototype” but presumably aren’t as “underrepresented” as
Asian Americans suggests a much simpler explanation for the demographics of
academic leadership: if you discriminate in favor of certain groups, you tend
to get more of them and fewer of those you discriminate against. 

John S. Rosenberg

John Rosenberg blogs at Discriminations.

3 thoughts on “Why So Few Asian American Academic Leaders?

  1. One thing academics who scream ‘racial bias’ in this case are forgetting is that it is academics themselves who are in control of the hiring process.
    University presidents, provosts, and deans are not hired by the local KKK or random rednecks off the street. Hiring committees for leadership-level university positions are made up of other deans, vice presidents, and senior professors. The ultimate decision to hire a president may rest with a board of trustees, but those trustees usually hire based on the faculty committee’s recommended candidates.
    I’m not sure who the authors of the study are blaming for the ‘barriers to leadership advancement,’ but if they are pointing fingers, they need to look in a mirror and point at themselves.
    On the other hand, I agree with George Leef’s assessment that Asians as a group may be more interested in education than administration. And good on ’em for thinking that way.

  2. I believe that we’ve seen this pattern before, in that Jews were heavily represented among the faculty before there were many Jewish presidents.
    I suspect that academic discipline may play a part. Asians may, for instance, be less represented among historians, who (I think) tend to gravitate toward administration because they are concerned with real-world issues but don’t have many extra-academic opportunities (e.g., for consulting).
    Finally, the stereotyping issue is dubious. Fu Manchu had all the skills of a university president – and a doctorate.

  3. If those statistics pertained to some other minority group, the higher ed establishment would be in a panic to eliminate the “inequity” of “underrepresentation” in higher ed administrative positions. Because we’re talking about Asians, that won’t happen.
    My guess is that Asians are “underrepresented” because most of them who go into the academic world prefer actual academic work to the headaches and obligatory leftist posturing that goes with administration.

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